Forward Thinking Family Law Since 1994

Step-Parent Adoption in Michigan

Adopting a stepchild in Michigan is a tool for blended families to protect children’s and step-parents’ rights to custody, support, and inheritance.

A step-parent adoption in Michigan helps provide for the needs of children of single parents or those in blended families. It replaces an absentee or unfit legal parent of a child with the spouse of that child’s custodial parent. In other words, it allows stepparents to step into the role of the child’s legal parent, with all the rights and obligations that come with that title.

Step-Parents’ Rights in Michigan

daughter embracing father Step-parents play a vital role in the health, support, and well-being of children. They help with homework, care for the child at home, provide for the family’s needs, even talk to pediatricians and teachers on the child’s behalf (with a valid parental power of attorney). When things are going well, it may feel like there is no difference between your child’s legal parent and their step-parent.

However, when conflict arises, it raises the question of whether step-parents have rights in Michigan courts. The short answer is no. A step-parent is not a legal guardian in Michigan. While there are very limited exceptions under the Equitable Parent Doctrine, Michigan courts generally will not give any legal weight to a relationship between step-parent and stepchild unless there has been a step-parent adoption. This can lead to problems when:

  • The custodial parent dies without a will naming the step-parent as guardian
  • The biological parent tries to assert rights to custody and parenting time
  • The custodial parent cuts communication between the step-parent and child during a divorce
  • The step-parent refuses to help support the child after separation
  • The step-parent dies without an estate plan, leaving the child without an inheritance

How to Adopt a Stepchild in Michigan

To protect your rights and your stepchild, step-parents can file for a step-parent adoption in the family division of the appropriate circuit court. To do that, the step-parent must:

  • Be married to the child’s custodial parent
  • Prepare the Petition for Adoption and related paperwork
  • Have the custodial parent sign off on adoption petition
  • Gather letters of recommendation for your stepparent adoption
  • Provide employment, income, and medical information to the court
  • Complete a criminal background check
  • Meet with a child-placement social worker for a home study
  • Terminate the parental rights or get the consent of the non-custodial parent
  • Wait for the court to finalize the adoption and order the Secretary of State to issue a new birth certificate

Believe it or not, this is a shortcut to the standard adoption process.  It is important to note again that you must be the spouse of the parent awarded custody for Michigan adoption laws to allow you to use this abbreviated process and avoid court supervision.

Step-Parent Adoption Without a Biological Parent’s Consent

When everyone agrees, a step-parent adoption doesn’t have to be a complicated or expensive process. However, when a non-custodial parent or biological father or mother withholds consent, it can cause problems and increase the cost of the step-parent adoption. It is possible to get a step-parent adoption without a biological father’s or mother’s consent. However, you and your attorney will have to prove:

  • The non-custodial parent’s rights have been terminated in an abuse and neglect proceeding, or
  • In the past two years, the non-biological parent has both: (1) failed to provide financial support or follow a child-support order, and (2) failed to visit, contact, or communicate with the child.

Parental termination cases are often contested. Even an absentee mother or “putative father” (whose biological relationship to the child hasn’t been proven) can feel like their child is being taken away and fight back. If you are not able to get the non-custodial parent’s consent before filing your adoption petition, you should be sure to work with a team of experienced step-parent adoption attorneys to advocate for your child, your family, and your rights as a step-parent. Schedule a consultation to discuss your specific situation and get help bringing your family together under one legal umbrella.